Esperanza Spalding’s Emily’s D+Evolution brings a touch of the surreal to Shepherd's Bush Empire

 EsperanzaSpalding MG 3035

She comes on stage in a crouch, to a backdrop of squalling rock guitar and bradycardic bass drum. It’s pitch black but I can see something slung across her shoulders, fanning out behind her like a tail of peacock feathers. She steps up to the microphone and I realise it’s her bass.

On my ticket it says Esperanza Spalding, the prodigious bass-playing vocalist who became the first jazz musician to win Best New Artist at the Grammys, in 2011. But this is someone else. This is Emily, Spalding’s alter ego and the front-woman for Emily’s D+Evolution, a new project inspired by rock band Cream; a documentary about Cream drummer Ginger Baker; and a “sleepless night of full moon inspiration.” Or so the story goes.

I like Emily. She’s an enigma wrapped inside a puzzle wrapped inside psychedelic two-tone leggings. She wears braids and baby blue wayfarer glasses and chunky white high-heeled boots that gleam as bright as a celebrity’s smile. Her vocals are flawless, husky, bittersweet and lustrous as caramel, and with the excellent Matt Stevens on guitar, Justin Tyson on drums and charismatic duo Emily Elbert and Corey King on backing vocals, she knows how to pick a band.

EsperanzaSpalding MG 3045

Stylistically her music goes far beyond Cream and the performance feels more like a show than a gig. One minute Emily is singing trippy, pseudo-operatic vocal lines over a bluesy psych-rock groove, then she’s a philosophising college student, waiting in line with Elbert and King and collecting a graduation scroll as ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ blares out through the speakers. They read the scrolls in a unison babble (something about Darwinism, silver spoons and “good old fashioned learning”), then Emily’s at the piano. Now she’s a hotel porter with a little red hat singing a half rocky, half poppy show tune about the economy going up and down like an elevator. It culminates in musical chaos that sounds like Peter Brötzmann’s Chicago Tentet falling down a fire escape and then we’re into ‘Funk the Fear’. Tangled basslines recall 2012 jazz/R&B album Radio Music Society and the helter-skelter rhythm of the vocals is classic Spalding – the first signs that this new project isn’t a complete departure.  

Texturally, not to mention visually, all of it is fascinating. The sound isn’t great: it reduces too many of Emily’s highly evolved basslines to a muddy primordial soup, but there’s nothing she can do about that. More problematic is the lack of strong melodies, something for you to hold on to as the surreality unfolds. It’s too much for a lot of the audience and there’s a sizeable exodus midway through the set.

But then, amid the sound of wedding bells and talk of carnal desire, the tunes come thick and fast and it all feels more satisfying. Rock ballad ‘Judas’ is superb, ‘One’ is breathtaking and melodramatic and ‘Unconditional Love’ is a finisher worth waiting for – beautiful and softly spoken until it turns feral, with stampeding drums, Stevens wrenching at his guitar and Emily shredding on five string bass, playing lines so deep you’d need sonar to keep track of them.

Now they’re bellowing in the stalls and Emily returns for a tumbling, a capella take on ‘Little Fly’ “from Esperanza Spalding’s repertoire” followed by a wonderful, nightmarish rendition of ‘I Want It Now!’ from the 1971 film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, with full band.

This project isn’t without its flaws. If the strong melodies were better distributed it would make a world of difference. Yet, even in its current form, it has touches of brilliance and there’s something bewitching about Spalding’s commitment to eccentric originality and her reckless disregard for convention. “No more acting those predictable roles,” she sings. I don’t think anyone could have predicted this.

– Thomas Rees @ThomasNRees

– Photos by Roger Thomas

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website

If you do not change browser settings, you consent to continue. Learn more

I understand

Breaking News

Babelfish swim to Kings Place for Once U…

Acclaimed jazz-folk group Babelfish are set to launch their new...

Read More.....

Michael Janisch kicks out the jams for n…

Whirlwind Recordings label boss Michael Janisch (above centre) steps back...

Read More.....

Lost Miles Davis Rubberband album snaps …

Rubberband, a previously unissued 1985 album by Miles Davis, is...

Read More.....

Grégoire Tirtiaux and Gratitude Trio lea…

This is a festival where it’s possible to completely miss Kamasi...

Read More.....

Final Bow For The Night Tripper – A Trib…

Refuting the title of his biggest hit, ‘Right Place, Wrong...

Read More.....

Rossano Sportiello rounds out Harriet Co…

For 40 amazing years, the singer Harriet Coleman has presented...

Read More.....

Ronnie Scott’s rolls up to Royal Albert …

Ronnie Scott’s, the iconic London jazz club, will mark its...

Read More.....

Wollny Steals The Night As Moran Breaks …

The first thing to notice were the queues, over 200...

Read More.....

Steam Down, Emma-Jean Thackray and Leafc…

Stroud’s reputation as the alternative hippy hub of the Cotswolds...

Read More.....

Andrew McCormack returns with Graviton: …

Award-winning pianist Andrew McCormack storms back with the second volume...

Read More.....

Jazz Cafe sax summit kicks off second Lo…

Following its successful inaugural run last year, the London Saxophone...

Read More.....

McFerrin Moves Estonian Voices To Jubila…

The second half of Tallinn’s 10-day Jazzkaar festival was particularly...

Read More.....

Herbie Hancock, Terri Lyne Carrington an…

The line-up for this year’s EFG London Jazz Festival is...

Read More.....

Williams And Mancio Find Home With Subli…

  Kate Williams and her distinctive Four Plus Three, that’s her...

Read More.....

McBride, Porter, Reeves and Jazz At Linc…

Although it is a respected cultural event throughout the Caribbean...

Read More.....

Major unreleased Tubby Hayes Fontana alb…

Christmas comes early for fans of the late, great Brit-jazz...

Read More.....

Ripsaw Get Rolling

Baritone saxophonist Cath Roberts and guitarist Anton Hunter take their...

Read More.....

Cello Fellows Honsinger, Dixon & Lon…

The fifth annual Chicago Jazz String Summit took place at...

Read More.....

Bristol Jazz Fest launches Crowdfunder l…

The Bristol International Jazz & Blues Festival has launched a...

Read More.....

Marcus Miller, Tim Garland and Leïla Mar…

The full line-up for this year’s Manchester Jazz Festival has...

Read More.....

Joshua Redman And Sosa Electrify Spirits…

After last year’s swelter, Cheltenham Festival offered a more temperate climate for...

Read More.....

Friedlander Frames Family Memories At Ka…

  If many contemporary jazz festivals opt for maximum numbers, gigs-wise...

Read More.....

Bonsai band bounce out for album and UK…

Progressive jazz five-piece Bonsai – formerly known as Jam Experiment...

Read More.....

Prieto Exhibits Latin Prowess, While Med…

This 30th edition of the Savannah Music Festival featured a...

Read More.....

Jazz 625 BBC4 Live broadcast and Free St…

With Cheltenham Jazz Festival set for a busy six days...

Read More.....

Steam Down Collective, Sons Of Kemet, Ca…

This year’s Jazz FM Awards ceremony took place at Shoreditch...

Read More.....

Ribot Leads Revolutionary Call At Jazz E…

Portugal’s premier experimental jazz bash, Jazz em Agosto, adopts a...

Read More.....

Cinematic Orchestra, Friday Arena and Ba…

The organisers of this year’s Love Supreme Jazz Festival, which...

Read More.....

John McLaughlin & The 4th Dimension …

  Kicking off this evening’s set with a high-octane crash through...

Read More.....

Terri Lyne Carrington, Joe Lovano and Lu…

This year’s EFG London Jazz Festival, its 27th edition, runs...

Read More.....

Stanley Clarke Captivates With Crowd-Sur…

As Return to Forever bass legend Stanley Clarke (pictured above) opened...

Read More.....

Bro, Seim and Gustafsson amid the Scandi…

  As a snapshot of the great charm of Vossa Jazz's...

Read More.....

Laura Mvula, Melt Yourself Down and Alin…

  Love Supreme continue to expand the brand by bringing an...

Read More.....

Empirical get set for Distraction Tactic…

Multi-award winning London four-piece Empirical release the second part of...

Read More.....

Thrice is the charm for APA Cole Porter …

Say what you like about America (and I frequently do)...

Read More.....

Blue Note President Don Was To Receive P…

Don Was, the President of the iconic Blue Note Records...

Read More.....

Making The Cut Mpu 300x500px

Subcribe To Jazzwise

Advertisement

Call 0800 137201 to subscribe or click here to email the subscriptions team

Get in touch

Jazzwise Magazine,
St. Judes Church,
Dulwich Road, 
Herne Hill,
London, SE24 0PD.

0208 677 0012

Latest Tweets

There's a screening of 'A Great Day In Harlem', Jean Bach's stunning film about the most famous photo in jazz, at t… https://t.co/SnCI2E7Xno
Follow Us - @Jazzwise
Office vibes: a subtler set of Bushman's Revenge's soundscapes via their forthcoming Et Hån Mot Overklassen… https://t.co/rpnPJYto6w
Follow Us - @Jazzwise

Newsletter

© 2016 MA Business & Leisure Ltd registered in England and Wales number 02923699 Registered office: Jesses Farm, Snow Hill, Dinton, Salisbury, SP3 5HN . Designed By SE24 MEDIA